Imperial County vegetable crops farm advisor Keith Mayberry retired in January after 35 years with University of California Cooperative Extension.

Mayberry shaped his college education with a Cooperative Extension career in mind. He worked with UC Extension specialists to develop a program of coursework that would prepare him to conduct applied agricultural research and teach. When he finished his master's degree in 1968, he took the soils and water farm advisor position in Imperial County, the same county where he was raised. After a one-year leave to work in private agriculture, he returned to Imperial County UCCE as vegetable crops advisor. It was in that position Mayberry achieved his significant research accomplishments.

In the late 1960s, iceberg lettuce was planted with natural seed. Mayberry's fieldwork tested seed pellets from U.S. and foreign sources to determine which would tolerate the Southwest desert's high heat, salinity and soil crusting.

In the early 1970s, sprinkler irrigation was first being tried in the Imperial Valley. Mayberry, together with a UC irrigation specialist, experimented and learned that sprinklers vastly improved emergence of most small-seeded vegetable crops, especially lettuce, carrots and onions. Mayberry and his colleagues developed guidelines for running sprinklers that would provide maximum emergence with minimum run times. These practices are still widely used by low-desert farmers today.

Vegetable varieties

Mayberry also worked on vegetable crop variety selection. He screened cauliflower varieties from around the world and found cultivars that made it feasible to grow commercial cauliflower in the low desert from Thanksgiving to early March.

Mayberry and recently retired San Diego County farm advisor Wayne Schrader are joint owners of a U.S. plant patent for breeding the Imperial Star artichoke, the leading artichoke variety that can be planted from seed. Imperial Star is used in California, Spain, North Africa, Mexico, Central America, South America, Australia, France and China.

In 1996, Mayberry traveled to Peru, where he collected artichoke plants grown high in the Andes Mountains near the town of Huancayo. Schrader and Mayberry bred those selections with Imperial Star.

Cost of production

“We made some crosses and out pops two plants with red artichokes on them,” Mayberry said. Red artichokes are in high-demand in Europe and demand for them is rising in the United States because of their decorative appeal. Development of the red artichoke variety is still under way. Mayberry intends to continue his artichoke breeding work to complete a U.S. patent on the red variety during his retirement.

Perhaps Mayberry's most significant accomplishment has been his work in the development of cost-of-production information for vegetable crops. Mayberry and field crops farm advisor Herman Meister created an Internet-based cost-of-production spreadsheet program for 14 vegetable and eight field crops grown in the Imperial Valley. The UC Davis cost-of-production Web site, which has hundreds of cost-of-production studies, received requests for nearly 250,000 downloads from the public in 2003. The site is at: http://coststudies.ucdavis.edu.

“This number of downloads demonstrates the popularity and demand for current and accurate cost-of-production data on California agriculture,” Mayberry said.

In 1988, Mayberry received the Distinguished Service Award for research from the UC Academic Assembly Council, an organization that addresses the needs of UC Cooperative Extension academic staff. Two years later, he received a second Distinguished Service Award for teaching. Over his career, Mayberry authored or co-authored 55 peer-reviewed publications, dozens of technical publications and hundreds of magazine and newspaper stories.

UC Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources W. R. Gomes named Mayberry an emeritus Cooperative Extension advisor, effective January 2004. In February, Mayberry and his wife moved to a five-acre ranch near Cortez, Colo., where he plans to spend time riding horses, fishing and hunting with his family and friends.